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Grace Ross: Governor - Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


One cannot help but be impressed by the things the Governor got right in his State of the State address this year nor avoid being disappointed by the things he seems to still misrepresent.

As the very famous Republican, Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

It was exciting to hear the Governor actually talk about the income side and responsibility of the state. He put out what has been shown repeatedly: sales taxes are a heavy burden on those who cannot afford them, and it makes much more sense to shift our tax burden from a source that depends primarily on the income of those who don’t have much to spreading that burden through an income tax onto everyone. Income tax includes the highest income-earners and reflects an expectation that everyone contribute in at least a somewhat fairer manner to the survival of the whole. Even for the wealthy, it is reasonable for Government to ask them to play their part in creation of a real healthy civic society.

There will be lots of debate about the tax issue, but perhaps we could for once have it based in the reality that income taxes are the only tax, if loopholes are closed, that taxes everyone and requires that everyone contribute to this venture of a democracy together.

As we heard over and over again correctly from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, investment in infrastructure and innovation and decent education – equally distributed – is critical to building a healthy society and democracy. In fact, the emphasis on education almost echoed some of the Governor’s original campaign promises from 2006.

However, the other side of the coin has to be the question of whether we have a civilized and civic society for which we must pay taxes.

The most shocking piece of the Governor’s speech: alarmingly ignoring the truly questionable idea that regular people should be paying taxes far into the future for our transportation system when a huge percentage of that money is going to pay off derivative deals and huge profits for the largest banking institutions. These banks are some of the many which crashed our economy and got bailed out to the tune of $7.77 trillion – counting dollars from our federal coffers and the good faith and credit of us American tax payers.

Indeed, the transportation deal smacked very similarly of the “doomed to fail” and therefore presumptively unfair and illegal mortgages that drove, and continue to impact, the foreclosure crisis in our Commonwealth. Again, there is the staggering concept that the foreclosure crisis still continues to pose the greatest harm to our state economy, and the Governor, who’s taken the right position on the issue, continues to not talk about this in rebuilding our economy.

Understand that when some of our transportation agencies got into trouble, they bought into “swaptions” and other derivative deals where they expected to make more money than the bank that they borrowed the money from. They bet against the bank. No one bets against the bank because the bank pulls too many of the strings. We know we are not going to win, but the taxpayers of the state are being asked to pay for that bad bet. In fact, Massachusetts taxpayers are still being asked to pay for vast cost overruns from the Big Dig that were never resolved even when the tunnel fell in on one of our residents.

Yes, there’s an alternative to indenturing a chunk of our taxes and the work of the people of Massachusetts to an unreasonable and unfair debt. The Governor of California used the leverage of the significant investments of the state. As a state with the second-highest income population of any state in the union, we too have plenty of economic leverage. The leadership in California told the largest banks to simply write off a large chunk of the transportation debt. It was ill-gotten gains; there was no reason for the people of California to be held hostage to it.

That solution is not even mentioned in the Governor’s speech. There is no reason in the world why we should – through the blood and sweat of years of our labor – be paying off a bad debt. We-the-People didn’t choose to create it in the first place. Why should our taxes feed the coffers of those who have been the most irresponsible, the biggest financial players in our society who crashed our’s and the world’s economy?

Then we get to the second half of the equation; a civil society. Perhaps it’s an expression of the kinds of jobs the Governor has held, not his childhood which he likes to hearken back to so much that leads him to make comments like this, but quite honestly, the workers of our state who labor day in and day out (imperfectly like all of us) but contribute to the actual functioning of our state, the only thanks they get in his speech is for “giving away concessions.” What concessions has he given away? I don’t see him taking an income cut or a benefit cut. Yet all he can do is celebrate what he has argued them out of? Not the efforts they put in every day to keeping the gears of our state functioning.

In fact, rather than acknowledging we are in as much trouble with jobs as we are with foreclosures, all the Governor has to say about job creation is that he cut jobs. Six thousand of them. At a time when people could ill-afford it and at a time when our economy couldn’t afford to lose the spending of those people in our local economies.

He repeats an often-stated and inaccurate economic statement: jobs are created by private businesses. In good economic times, jobs are created by private interests, but – to follow on the lead of George W. Bush who understood, even if it was the opposite of his rhetoric – in bad economic times, jobs are created by government.

Perhaps we could have an honest conversation about jobs as well as taxes and acknowledge that when economies are struggling, it’s governments who create jobs.

Without government job-creation, no matter how much the official unemployment rate wants to report that we are in such great shape as a state, talk to people on the street. Everyone is still scared about their job. As Romney said in his ad, the average income has actually gone down.

While there can be nothing but applause for the possibility of decreasing the amount of guns pumping up the damage created by a violent act, we need to address a deeper expression of violence: how few of us hold forward for the children of our society great possible futures and the economic damage done to the youngest adult generation in our state. They have learned a lesson that will harm all of us in the future: an integral part of their early adult lives is not having good decent working conditions and a way to support themselves and make adult decisions about where to live and when to build a family.

Decent jobs, housing, a possibility of an improving future for all, protecting the next generation – all of them – from violence as much as we can and not presuming women’s reports of domestic violence are suspect are some of the building blocks of a civilized society. Without those, having a good, healthy and perhaps finally fact-based discussion about taxes still does not get us to a proper equation of all of us paying taxes for a genuinely civilized society.


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